Playing EPIC in 28mm.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

ECW - my back yard.

So, if you follow the Palladian Guard at all you'll have seen Col Scipio's Royalist Infantry.  And a number of comments about the fact that the ECW is not covered at all in school.  I started school in 1975 and from then until 1986, it wasn't mentioned.

The Aylesbury Vale District Council's badge/emblem is a silhouette of the statue of Oliver Cromwell which subtly dominates (it's not much bigger then lifesize, but it has presence) the town'd market square.  He would have ridden through there often enough during the mid 1640s.  This is about twenty minutes east of here.

Oxford, which was Charles 1st capital during the war, is about twenty minutes south of here. Whilst a magnificent seat of learning, and architecturally imposing, it wasn't London.  He didn't stay in London because it was naturally Parliamentarian in outlook.  Oxford was mostly loyal to the king at the outset.  The city still floods now.  It used to flood then as well. And it wasn't London and they soon ran out of money and the King had to resort increasingly to coercion to maintain his capitol.

Moving west from here, 10 minutes up the M40 is Junction 10; this is the approximate position of the Parliamentarian camp before Edgehill.

A few miles north of there is Edgehill (Oct 1642); the first meeting engagement of the English bit of the wars.  There are places oop norf and in the west country which have interesting claims to the first shots fired; the first actions per se; but Edgehill is the first time the two armies meet in the field.  The Royalist Army is led by Sir Jacob Astley; he was, by inclination and conviction, a parliamentarian.  However, he was the General of the king's armies and felt that he could not betray that confidence and so spent the war leading the side he felt he should have been opposing.  Tough gig.

Sir Jacob Astley

A lot of the war was armies manoeuvring through the countryside, dancing around each other for advantage and using up the goodwill of the population in pretty short order.  A few more miles west of Edgehill is Cropredy Bridge (Jun 1644), these days more famous for it's music festival.  But it was once the scene of a running battle when the armies did actually run into each other.

Half an hour south west again is Stow on Wold (Mar 1646); the last meeting engagement of the war.  Here the last remnants of the Royalist Army finally succumbed to the New Model Army.  The last battered remnants of the Royalist Army, despite having the high ground at the outset of the battle (I've stood on the NWA's startline, it's not ground anyone would choose for any sort of battle; but they had to strike or the Roaylists would have escaped).  The NMA repeatedly assaulted uphill until they routed the Royalists into the town. Here Sir Jacob Astley finally broke his sword.  The roundhead commanders respectfully brought up their drum for the aging and tired man to sit on.

Half an hour south of there is Burford; scene of running battles through the town (including through one of the inns, still open as a pub) and a post war rebellion by Soldiers who had not been paid for months. (if you follow the link, the 1649 bit is about half way down the page).

The ECW is usually studied in isolation as king vs parliament.  I think this is a gross over simplification, Walsingham, working for Elizabeth I, spent a lot of his professional life foiling Catholic plots to assassinate the Queen after she failed to wed the King of Spain.  So the reformation has to be seen against the backdrop of the times; there was a time that if you were flagrantly Catholic then trying to just walk into London would find your head on a pike on the gates to the city.

Post Elizabeth and Walsingham, we have what are generally known as the Bishop's Wars which are often viewed as being confined to Scotland.  But the fact that they abated without seriously threatening to unseat Charles I gave him enormous confidence.  This led directly to the clash with Parliament and the bit we think of as the ECW.

During the commonwealth, the Lord Protector then turned his attention to Ireland, perceived as a threat due to it's Catholic allegiance and feared due to (not being being understood because of its unfathomable) non-English culture.  This was never going to go well.  The Puritanical elements of the New Model Army saw invasion of Catholic Ireland as the continuation of God's Work.  Just to contextualise, contemporaneously, Matthew Hopkins is busy drowning cat ladies in the home counties to the accompaniment of loud popular acclaim.

So the ECW is an act in three parts; preceded by the Elizabethan era of cold war type tension and deniable black ops, it kicks off with the Bishop's Wars, and goes through the civil war in England and on to Cromwell's Irish campaigns without missing a stride.  It's a big slew of history with obvious roots in the reign of Henry VIII and troubles that are arguably still with us today.


  1. A little further into Wiltshire is Roundway Down (site of an infamous cavalry disaster) that my Mrs PVP studied as part of her degree (archaeological illustration). It's a "cool" period and I keep looking at Warlord's offerings with longing but, too many projects, not enough time!

  2. My village bridge (long; medieval) was rather pleasingly defended by a single cannon for a short while, and the 'Second of Battle of Modbury' (next town West of here, about 4 miles) was from what I understand far more of a rout than a battle..the local historical website has it pegged thus:

    "The second battle, in 1643, involved more than 8000 [Parliamentarians] who advanced from Kingsbridge to attack the 2000 Royalist defenders who were eventually driven back from these fields into the Town, where they finally withdrew down Runaway Lane".

    'Runaway Lane', eh? - Nice!

  3. Very well written sir and moreso interesting than my current workload here at the Courthouse. Thankyou.

    One topic I got multiple years of in my History classes was the Troubles in Ireland, ranging from William of Orange traipsing in and doing horrible things in the name of Liz I and protestantism through to the then current (earliest 1990's) state of affairs with marches and Sinn Fein and tube station bombings.

    1. Very interesting read, and thanks for the shout. When we're doing historical wargaming all over time and space, it's easy to forget how close most of us are to some real history.

      It's a crying shame education isn't focussed more on our own history. As you say, the ECW needs to be taken in the context of past and future events. Doing an A-level at the moment, the 1689 - 1780 module is basically a 'Cold Civil War', the spectre loomed over King and parliament and led to the robust political system that led to Britain's position and empire, thus it had a dramatic effect on all history. Not normally a 'what if' kind of chap, but I suspect that if there hadn't been an ECW we wouldn't recognise the world today.

      Sadly, as you say, it seems to have been reduced into a contest of flamboyant hats by most.

  4. The thing is that it could still be a very touchy subject; Buses and pubs were being bombed when I was growing up and when I had my first real job; even later as a civil servant there was sectarian tension amongst the workforce in the RN bases on the west coast. It's not over yet - letter bombs being sent to ACIOs earlier this week.